To me the Thanksgiving Weekend means bird hunting. So I grabbed the dogs and headed to the field this past Wednesday – never too early to begin the Thanksgiving celebration.
Arriving about 8:30 a.m. with the sun already chasing some of the chill away on this beautiful Nebraska day, I hit the field with my young Springer, Pip, and the old-veteran Hope, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Despite our best attempts it yielded only wild flushing pheasants and a great chance to burn some energy. Oh, there was a flock of prairie chickens that jumped just out of gun range, as they are prone to do – they numbered in the 60′s or 70′s – and disappeared over the horizon.
We wasted little time in getting to field number-two and I loosed the little French Brittany, Carrot. Within 5 minutes we were in birds and she slammed into a point. A moment later the hen pheasant decided it was time to leave. In less than 3 minutes, another point and another hen. But this time little Carrot stood her ground and held her point – a swish of my foot and the second hen popped out. We made our way around the backside of this field before the little girl got to work another brown pheasant. I commented to her about doing a good job and that we would be rewarded if we just kept going, then my phone buzzed and I got into a walking, text conversation with my wife – we planned the final details of the next day’s festivities. That is when I lost track of Carrot. (Reminding me that a beeper collar was something I should add to the Christmas Wish List – it’s extremely easy to lose an 18″ brown-dog in 4-foot grass). I found her – on point – 50 yards back in the direction I had just come from. Unfortunately, at the same time I spied her the rooster gave up and flushed 30 yards in front of her – cackling as he sailed away. Carrot found two more hens as we walked back to the vehicle.
The next field of thinner grass held promise of a loafing bird or two as the November sun continued to warm the landscape. Carrot and I found lots of promising sign on our walk, but her tail never showed much interest until we neared the south end of the field. Then she hit one of her trade mark prairie-grouse points where she suddenly freezes, then snakes ahead a few feet, freezes again keeping her head high as if the scent is still way out in front of her. The grip on my shotgun tightened and the fun took flight as 5 or 6 chickens popped from the grass 35 yards out. Picking the closest one I slapped the trigger – and it fell! Then, even closer, 8 or 9 more took off. As I was picking out a bird, I was congratulating myself on the soon to be made double – then I pulled the trigger and nothing happened! Realizing the second shell didn’t feed correctly I worked the action and rushed an errant shot at the fleeing group. That’s when the next 10 chickens burst from right beside me – a chance to redeem my previous misfortune. I found the beak of a likely candidate and hit the trigger – nothing happened, again! Had to work the action manually to feed the third and final shell into the chamber and let another too-far behind shot go at the fleeing birds. The chickens kept popping up around me in pairs and groups, as I hastily reloaded and took one last-desperate shot and again hit nothing but air. Once the excitement died a bit I discovered that Carrot had moved up a bit and was still holding a point of sorts. I cut the distance and at 10 yards the final chicken flushed, presenting an easy shot – if not for the final misfeed of the day. This bird made it safely away, too. It took some time to convince Carrot that I had hit anything, but when she decided to humor me she quickly found the young male. (This brings me to the second item for the Christmas Wish List – a good gun cleaning by a competent gunsmith or simply an extensive do-it yourself gun cleaning kit.) I was ready to leave this field.
After having lunch at the worst chinese restaurant this side of Wyoming I chose a new Open Fields area I had never hunted before. It’s size and location between two harvested cornfields was intriguing. As I started to unload, a SUV with some orange-clad occupants drove slowly past – the only other bird hunters I had seen all day – making me wonder if they had just hunted this patch of grass. I continued on with my plans and just 40 yards from the vehicle both Carrot and Pip gave me reason to think they hadn’t as their tails started doing the “birdy-thing“. Both brittany and springer disappeared behind a rather large clump of prairie grass and only Pip came out the other side, nose to the ground and circling back. Though I couldn’t see Carrot my mind screamed point! I only got a half step toward her when a long-tailed rooster cackled into the air and presented a magazine-cover crossing shot. It felt good – white ring, red patch, beak & bang! The bird tumbled to the ground. Pip made the easy retrieve and we sat there a minute or two marveling at the old bird – who wore a pair of 1/2″ spurs. We spent the rest of the field working hens that were willing to hold and chasing roosters that weren’t, having a grand time. (As we finished the field I added another item to the Christmas Wish List – a new pair of bird hunting boots. It seems the area inside the boot, behind my heel, have worn out and the constant rub caused two large blisters.)
Being tired, in that good hunting way, we all loaded up and headed home. If you get a chance in the next couple of weeks to go bird hunting – do it. It is a great way to make your own Christmas Wish List.